Crunchy local cukes and sliced onions in a potent bath of vinegar and water with salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment to all summer food, as far as I am concerned. The flavor of the freshest mild-skinned early season cucumbers against a headstrong vinegary backdrop awakens the palate and provokes a deeply familiar taste of childhood that brings me right back to the dining room table at my Grandma’s farmhouse. My only addition to this simple recipe-less side from my past is a fluttering electric frizz of fresh dill just picked from the garden and snipped on top. Added sensory bonus: if you bring the leftovers to work and the container opens in your bag, you can smell/smell like the summery parfum of vinegar, onions and dill all day long!
Category Archives: Summer
Fresh Tomato Pasta for the Height of Tomato Season
Every time I come upon a tomato grown in our garden, I exclaim, “hello, gorgeous!”
My garden and the farmer’s market are booming juicy ripe tomatoes. We have been enjoying tomatoes with reckless abandon with simple preparation: in BLT’s, in a caprese salad or sliced on their own. Another delicious and simple preparation that honors a juicy tomato is this uncooked tomato pasta sauce that I tossed with hot whole grain spaghetti. It contained sliced and chopped tomatoes, two chopped sweet Italian peppers, a clove of garlic- minced, chopped flat leaf parsley, basil, and a few dashes of red wine vinegar and the tiniest drizzle of olive oil. I mixed up the sauce and left it raw, then tossed it with the pasta, cooked al dente. I topped it with fresh cracked pepper, a little salt and a ball of Buratta: fresh mozzarella with a creamy center, opened for scooping a spoonful on to each plate. The Burrata is a nice texture compromise between ricotta and regular fresh mozzarella and really made this lush. This was a fabulous summer pasta and an easy way to focus entire meal on tomatoes, raw and in their finest form: juicy and warm from the vine. Summer’s lease hath too short a date! Dig in! My recipe is a mash-up of recipes from Martha Stewart (here and here) and from a recipe from Bon Appetit, with the addition of Burrata from my own imagination.
After a break from blogging over the summer, I’ve decided to make shorter posts more the norm. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.
San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa Tequila Cocktail
For the most part, when it comes to imbibing, we are beer and wine people, with exceptions of course. For one thing, I like a marg on the rocks with my Mexican food, and the “Froggystyle” Salut Bar Americain’s gin cocktail with cucumber, mint and lime juice mostly, because it reminds me of the dozen or so dinners that I had with Bjorn on the Salut patio while planning our wedding. Every now and then, especially on a summer day, a refreshing and spunky cocktail can really hit the spot. This Aranciata Rossa Tequila cocktail that I mixed up recently was a good one. It will make more appearances on our patio this summer.
As evinced by this Instagram photo I snapped a few months ago, I am a little obsessed with San Pellegrino Aranciata soda, and anything else colored a deeply saturated rose hue, apparently.
I brought home 6 Aranciata sodas from Cossetta Italian Market which inspired a Google search for cocktail recipes. Most recipes I found included rum, except the “Mama Beth’s Poptail” recipe containing Aranciata soda and tequila posted on Mama Knows Her Cocktails. I was pleased to find a recipe uses reposado tequila since we brought home bottle from Mexico this winter. Mama Beth gets all the credit for the recipe, but I take credit for giving the cocktail a descriptive name and the addition of a cocktail umbrella and lime wedge to the presentation.
- Fill a glass with ice
- Add 2 ounces reposado tequila
- A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- A squeeze of fresh lime juice
- Top with 4 ounces San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa (blood orange soda)
- Swirl it with a straw and decorate the glass with a lime wedge and a cocktail umbrella (optional)– Enjoy!
This can easily be made into a non-alcoholic “mocktail” for the children and tea-totalers in your crowd by omitting the tequila, so that everyone can get in on the fun — na zdraví!
Backyard Baby Shower for Betsy
I have a small group of girlfriends from school who all live around the Twin Cities with their wonderful husbands and significant others. We all have busy lives, so we don’t see as much of each other as we could before we all grew up and joined the workforce, but we manage to keep in touch by making sure every big event in each of our lives is celebrated. There are 5 of us in total which means we all get a chance to host small group celebrations every time someone gets engaged, married or has a baby, or in the lulls between those milestones, someone hosts a brunch or a game night. In early September, I hosted a baby shower for Betsy, who was expecting a baby girl. This is the chevron shower invite that I created at ontobaby.com, a great website that I happened upon that allows you to customize colors and content and create many neat things for free, and then print them, or send them out via email as a PDF. Since the shower, teeny little Vivian Kiyoko arrived, and she is beautiful and I am so thrilled for Betsy and her husband, Sam that they are parents of this perfect little person.
Like most easygoing and enjoyable parties, this one started with advanced preparation. I made a full recipe of Martha Stewart’s Corn and Zucchini Orzo Salad. The salad was lemony with juice of 3 lemons and zest, kicky from the jalapenos from our garden, tasty and light, but the recipe, which reports to yield 6 servings yields something closer to 16 servings. I guess the pound of orzo pasta, 6 medium zucchini and 6 ears of corn should have been a tip-off. Everyone loved the salad and it made for some good leftovers the next week for lunch. I served the crumbled feta in a separate bowl so each person could add their own. Somewhere along the line while preparing for the shower I read an article about all the things pregnant and nursing moms aren’t supposed to eat, so anything that could vaguely be construed to be unpasteurized or uncured was served separately, even though most of my groceries probably satisfied both of these pregnant-person dietary requirements. I’m a vegetarian in a mostly meat-eating world, so I am (over)sensitive to this sort of thing. I am so glad that Tea Sandwiches and Deviled Eggs are back in vogue. I like both of these baby shower classic snacks, so I made both. Tea Sandwiches are perfect baby shower bites–they are small, cute and girly. I made cucumber tea sandwiches with cream cheese and chives, and smoked salmon tea sandwiches with the same spread. Both the sandwiches and classic deviled eggs were yummy. Decorations are one of the things that make a gathering into a party, so even though this is a small shower with a group of girls who gather with some regularity and don’t rely on pretense, I had to decorate. Betsy was expecting a girl, I took that as license to go pink. I cut dots out of pink felt and strung them into a garland on embroidery floss. Each felt dot is secured to the embroidery thread with two hand-stitched french knots. [Try saying that five times fast.] I stuck these around the patio with pink striped washi tape. I also hung pink tissue paper balls from the house and our patio lights with washi tape. I bought little pots of pink mums; hearty ones, like the moms and moms-to-be at the shower. I wrapped the pots in poufy pink tissue paper, shiny clear wrapping paper and secured the paper to each pot with a wide pink ribbon, tied in a bow. The hearty mums decorated the table and served as a little favor for each person to take home. I marked every person’s place at the table with a plant stake topped with a pink polka-dot name card that I made with a strip of card stock, further embellished with washi tape that I stuck into the pot of mums at each place. To round out our lunch I served antipasto skewers which consist of golden cherry tomatoes, marinated artichoke heart quarters, salami, fresh mozzarella, marinated mushrooms, peppers and seasoned olives from the grocery store olive bar threaded on to short bamboo skewers, dressed lightly with balsamic vinaigrette and garnished with fresh flat-leaf parsley from our garden. I set up a buffet table on the patio so that we could help ourselves to food and drink while we relaxed and talked. I set out pink tumblers and reusable striped straws as well as champagne glasses out so everyone could pour their own pink lemon-aid Arnie Palmers from drink dispensers and San Pelligrino sparkling water from the bottle which was sitting on ice. I also set out bottles of fruity Joaia and Izzy’s soda, and of course, we popped a bottle of champagne. I served mixed nuts, mints and bridge mix in a cut glass candy dish, another nod to classic baby shower fare that I am happy to revive. Desert was simple and totally a highlight. I whipped cream and stirred in sugar and vanilla, and sliced strawberries and blueberries which macerated in sugar in the fridge. The whipped cream and fruit were a delicious topping to a white cake made in a bundt pan, served with coffee. Betsy took home a nice assortment of cute baby gear, books, clothes and other essentials, and this cute Locally Grown Clothing Co Minnesota onesie. Nice pick, Alison. September was a busy month! Having to buy a new car and getting a new roof for our house and a few trips out of town took the time I’d normally devote to blogging, but I’m back and planning to share a few “catch up” posts about the fun we’ve been having, stop back!
Lovely Labor Day
Labour Day Weekend 2012 was probably the best on the books. We were at the lake with my parents; truly a magical place that we get to enjoy all year round. The weather was perfect this year, so we filled the hours with our favorite summer pass times: boating, swimming, water-skiing, bon fires, leisurely meals, visiting family, a great meal at Companeros, 4-wheeling, sunsets, coffee on the dock, magazines, garden strolls, board games, long talks and lots of laughs. It was the best.
Chef Shack Food Truck at the Mill City Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis
We visit the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market every weekend that we’re in town. We had friends visiting from out of town last weekend, and so we decided to change up the routine and venture out to the Mill City Farmer’s Market to check out a different market and sample a much-buzzed Twin Cities Food Truck that parks there on Saturday mornings. We weren’t surprised to find that the Mill City Farmer’s Market is a great place for crowd watching, beautiful produce and good eats.
The Mill City Farmer’s Market is tucked between the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum, and the Gold Medal Flour elevator and the condominium building that houses Spoonriver, my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis. The Mill District and nearby Saint Anthony Main, which is directly across the wonderful pedestrian-only Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi are two of the most fun pockets of Minneapolis to stroll through. I love their lively atmosphere and unique architecture which reflect the area’s evolution over time from a riverfront industrial district to the cultural center of the city. Even though I love visiting these places, this was our first trip the Mill City Farmer’s Market. Although the vegetable stands were overflowing with organic veggies, it is much more than just a place to stock up on heirloom tomatoes. People gather, music is played, there are artisanal cheeses, chocolate and baked goods, handmade clothing, furniture and other art for sale. The space was packed to the gills by mid-morning with strollers, camera-wielding bloggers, Iphone-ing instagrammers, gawkers, some shoppers and people like us who are there to eat.
Once we toured the market, we joined the lengthy line at the Chef Shack food truck. The line moved quickly. It gave us just enough time to peruse the chalkboard menu. Bjorn ordered a Walleye Sandwich and a bag of the Chef Shack’s renowned Indian-Spiced Mini Doughnuts for the group to share for dessert. As you can see, the sandwich consists of a meaty walleye fillet, fried crispy and served on a fresh baguette with lettuce, tartar sauce and veggie trimmings. Bjorn confirmed that the sandwich was one of the best he’s had. The four of us devoured the mini doughnuts so fast that I couldn’t even take a picture.
Our friend Ben was out for adventure. When he placed his order for Beef Tongue Tacos, the guy handling the cash register told him that he eats a Beef Tongue Taco every week he loves them so much. The meat eaters who sampled the tongue confirmed that it was a dense, beef flavor and texture, more offal-like than muscle-y. There! You can see the tongue poking out from below the corn! The vegetarian in me says “eek!” and the foodie says “cool!”
I swung by the Spoonriver food stand and purchased a refreshing glass of unsweetened Mango Iced Tea. Their Cucumber Water and Watermelon-Basil water were also beautiful and looked refreshing. It was very tempting to try a savory Spoonriver crepe, but I wanted to stick to the Food Truck option for today.
I was the sole vegetarian in the group. I ordered the Sweet Potato Tacos, one of several vegetarian offerings from the Chef Shack. They were tasty. I piled on some of the house-made garnishes available in tubs: pickly cukes and cauliflower, a dill pickle and some slaw. I am a sucker for garnishes. The double-layered tortillas were extremely fresh and delicious. I was glad to have the second tortilla layer, because the bean-corn-sweet potato mixture in the tacos was on the watery side, though wonderfully flavorful. The tortilla kept it all contained. I crumbled a little fresh feta from Singing Hills Dairy, purchased in the market on top–I won’t lie, I do prefer veggie tacos with cheese.
Our friend Jenny ordered a grass-fed, all-beef hotdog and also piled on the house-made condiments and garnishes. One of the Chef Shack chefs greeted us at the condiment table, and asked us cheerfully if we found what we needed. Yes, we certainly did. We walked away from the market, plopped down on a flat rock that served as our seating and table and enjoyed a wonderful, unique and tasty lunch.
I’ve visited a handful of food trucks in Minneapolis and Saint Paul and this was by far the best food truck meal I’ve experienced to date. This is the sort of truck that justifies its existence. The food simple, inspired and is as good or better and more fresh than many restaurants, served casually, quickly and is perfect for outdoor eating on the go. If you find yourself in Minneapolis on a Saturday between the hours of 8 and 1, I highly recommend a trip to the Mill City Farmer’s Market followed by a delicious lunch from the Chef Shack. Delish!
Dijon and Herb-dressed Potato Salad for the Heart of Summer
I love the heat, energy and fireworks explosion of people out enjoying life in every possible way that takes place in July; but to me, August is the heart of summer. I savor August days when the pace of life slows down, the garden booms and I can pause to soak in warmth, the natural wonders, brilliant flavors and the easy pace that life settles into at this time of year. I enjoy being able to base my seasons on what is happening outside, instead of on the school year or the sport’s calendar. It helps me keep the summer feeling alive to the last second when the fall chill genuinely takes hold. I understand that for many people, the first sign of a cooler evening, a fallen leaf or the school year looming close marks a change. Even so, it is too early to shift to autumn-cooking mode while the garden and farmer’s market is overflowing with beautiful summer vegetables and fruits. If you have a potluck, picnic or BBQ left on the agenda, trotting out the classic potato salad is probably starting to seem a little dull and repetitive. This is when it is time to turn the traditional potato salad on its heel–add some veggies to the ingredient list, subtract the typical mayo-based dressing. With a few tweaks, you have a bright, fresh twist on a classic potato salad that capitalizes on August abundance and tastes and looks so different, you will forget the creamy classic potato salad recipe you wore out in June and July.
Dijon and Herb Potato Salad– Yield: 6 generous servings, 20 minutes hands-on, 50 minutes total time.
- 2 pounds small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes scrubbed
- 6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and halved or quartered
- 1 cup Fresh Peas or String Beans, or a combination of both
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons Tarragon vinegar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Grainy Dijon mustard
- 8-10 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped, plus small, whole basil leaves for garnish
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Drop the potatoes into a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place them in a large bowl with the fresh peas or string beans on top and cover with a clean towel. This allows the beans or peas to steam along with the potatoes for 10 minutes more. Note, this approach worked for me, though if you are nervous about the peas or beans being cooked, add, them to the pot of boiling potatoes for the last few minutes, or steam them separately. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if they are large. If you used Yukon Gold potatoes, you can slip off the skins right off at this point if you like. Toss the potatoes gently with chicken stock. Allow the liquid to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
Combine the vinegar, mustard, olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the shallot, dill, parsley, basil, salt and pepper and gently toss. Just before serving, toss in the halved tomatoes and top the salad with halved hard-boiled eggs, fresh cracked pepper and small basil leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Tomatoes for the Rest of Us
Roasted Tomatoes – 1 hour, 350 degrees
Wonderful on Salads, Pasta, Pizza, Sandwiches and on their own.
2 pints of Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, halved top to bottom
A few tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Sprigs of fresh Thyme or Rosemary, Parsley or Basil
4-5 cloves of Garlic, unpeeled
Place oven rack in top 2/3 of oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Half the tomatoes and toss lightly in oil until just glistening.
Arrange tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Season tomatoes and add herbs, aromatics and whole, unpeeled cloves as desired.
Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until partly dried out, sweet, juicy and tender. Store extra roasted tomatoes for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, covered in olive oil.
The Summer Sandwich // Simple Dining, Al Fresco
This post is one part ode to one of my favor summer meals and one part cautionary tale. I figure that this blog is about my life, including some of the great meals in it, so I will start with a brief account the day when I spent inadvertently spent $17.72 on 0.57 lbs of cheese. [Oopsie.]
It was a typical Saturday morning. We started our day at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market. I determined my mission that day was to purchase the components of a summer sandwich for our lunch. At the time, our garden still had a few weeks to go before it would have much to offer us. I bought vegetables, bread, and then we left the market and looped our way up Grand Avenue to the Saint Paul Cheese Shop. That place is pretty neat. Sampling is encouraged, so we tasted several paper-thin wisps of cheese the cheesemonger shaved neatly off of several wheels of cheese and dropped into our extended hands from the forked tip of the blade of his cheese knife. I let my guard down. It is atypical for me to make a mindless splurge without glancing at the price per half pound. I was in a cheese-induced stupor when I asked for a small wedge of Marcel Petite Comte raw cow’s milk cheese from France, and a wedge of Terchelling Sheep’s milk cheese from Holland. I’m sure there are people who routinely spend far more than this on cheese in any given week. I’m not knocking it and I might do it again at some point. The difference will be that I do it intentionally. As a consolation, at least the cheese was very, very good.
Whew. Now that I’ve made that confession to my friends and readers, let’s make a sandwich! A Summer Sandwich is quite simply a sandwich with any combination of meat or vegetarian meat substitute, seasonal vegetables, cheese and sandwich spreads piled on top of nice bread.
I sliced a grainy loaf of bread and served the bread and cheese with our own cheese knives on wooden cutting boards. We eat most of our meals al fresco on our patio. It has been 90+ degrees farenheit there lately, but it is still very pleasant in the shade of a Maple Tree canopy.
I filled a platter with sliced cucumber and tomato, garden lettuces, piles of deli turkey and tofurky, along with bowls of mayonnaise and grainy dijon mustard, and placed salt and pepper shakers on the table. The secret to the perfect summer sandwich is bringing out whatever looks good and fresh, and let each person assemble the sandwich they desire.
If Freud were here, he’d say, “a sandwich is never just a sandwich.” It is the meal I ate on pebble beaches out of a cooler with my parents camping in Door County, Wisconsin in grade four. It is the BLT’s that beckoned numerous cousins, Uncles and Aunts to my Grandma’s farm house every July when the tomatoes were all ripe at once. It is the meal of lettuce, ham, turkey, tomato and cheese sandwiches on good sandwich bread that we shared with friends from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saint Paul and Minneapolis on a lakeshore in Northern Minnesota after a long, hot day on the lake last year over the 4th of July long weekend. It is the halved baguettes piled with cheese, sliced tomato and a pile of pršut [for the meat eaters] that we ate on a secluded pebble beach a few months ago in Croatia.
What is one to serve on the side? Well, nothing—any decent summer sandwich is in itself, a square meal. Or, if the mood strikes, some salty-crunchy potato chips, leftover potato salad out of the fridge, deviled eggs or summer fruit would all be the perfect compliment. On this particular day we rounded out our plates with bright, rainbow radishes that were too pretty to slice or even to remove the stem. Sure, they could have been thinly sliced and piled on the sandwich, but they were refreshing, spicy perfection and a visual treat perched on the side our plates.
A Summer Sandwich is simple perfection. No matter what fresh fixings are available, where you are, or what time it is, a sandwich satisfies hunger. A sandwich feeds a crowd with varied tastes, comes together easily and is a perfect meal to eat outdoors on a hot July day.
And the cheese?
We’re still working our way through it, and savoring every little morsel–we figure it cost us about 8 cents per crumb.
Remembrance and Red Currants
In my childhood, summers stretched long and leisurely. The two places you’d find me were at our cottage on the lake or my Grandma’s farm-house, a mile away from our cottage through the woods and across the field. My Grandma had a currant bush. Each July, one or more of us cousins, Uncles and Aunts were handed an aluminum bowl with a dented silver bottom, and a low wooden stool to sit on, and sent out to pick the currants. That task, and that shiny, dented bowl passed as a torch of honour among us. There always seemed to be enough currants for several of us to have our day to help pick the seemingly endless supply of brilliant, red berries, and later, be given more than our fair share of praise for the resulting pies. When I picked the currants in Grandma’s yard they reminded me of beads, dangling from intricate jewelry–abundant, glowing, red orbs, suspended from a wire-thin stem, and secured with a tiny knot. I ate many of the shining rubies right off of the bush. My Grandma lovingly folded those that made it into the house between crusts into a pie, baked in a much-used tin pie pan, and served it warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. The tart-sweetness of the berries under tender crust lingers in memory, inseparable from the warmth of summer days with Grandma. A few weeks ago at the Farmer’s Market I came upon an older Tasha Tudor-like lady who wore her long hair wrapped around her head in braid. She had 4 or 5 little berry boxes filled with Red Lake Currants sitting out at her stand. When I bought them, she told me that she likes to eat currants on yogurt for breakfast, or in salads. She also told me they’d be good for a few weeks. I felt a gentle touch of my Grandma’s spirit tasting those tart currants and talking to the sweet elderly lady. I couldn’t bring myself to add the currants to yogurt or salad. This early-July treasure must be made into a dessert. I couldn’t think of anything I could make that would do the currants justice–I am not much of a baker. I put the currants in a bowl and carried them with me up north to the lake last weekend. I left the bowl of currants with my mother. She knows the tart-sweetness of the pie in my memory and will adeptly fold them between crusts and savor the lingering warmth of July days past.